The Hoodoo War of Mason County — Part II Essay
Following the killing of Wohrle, Cooley was an outlaw, a wanted man. As if he weren’t dangerous enough, he soon surrounded himself with a band of other desperadoes. Among them, George Gladden, who was a known gunman in the area, Moses and John Baird, who were two cowboys of dubious reputation from Burnet County and a self-educated drifter named Johnny Ringo.
The outlaws set up a hideout at Gladden’s place in Loyal Valley (ironically, named for the Germans’ loyalty to the Union during the Civil War) and proceeded to terrify the surrounding area, threatening a saloon owner and wounding a prominent German statesman in his store. Cooley’s behavior during some of these incidents might be described as bizarre – he was given to openly displaying Wohrle’s scalp and waving it the faces of persons he was terrorizing.
Cooley’s gang soon targeted Carl Bader. Carl was Peter Bader’s brother and it is not clear whether his murder was an act of revenge for Williamson’s death or a simple case of mistaken identity. On August 19, 1875 Cooley’s band showed up at Bader’s farm in Llano County and located him working alone in his field. Before Bader had a chance to make a run for it, Cooley, Gladden and Ringo shot him dead. There was at least one report that he was also scalped.
In Mason, Clark, his allies and the Hoodoo Mob, were trying to determine what their next move should be, when word of Bader’s death reached town. It was decided that they could no longer wait to take action. Clark hired a local gambler named Jim Cheney to go to Gladden’s place and try to convince the band to come peacefully to Mason. Cheney was able to locate George Gladden and Moses Baird, and the two agreed to make the trip to Mason. Cheney left the two riders behind and raced ahead of them up the road.
When Gladden and Baird stopped at Keller’s Store in Hedwig Hill for a drink, they saw Sheriff John Clark standing outside. Not wanting to take any chances with the outlaws, Clark had brought sixty men with him, all of them hiding out of sight. A gun battle ensued and shots began pouring at Gladden and Baird from behind a stone wall. The two men were badly wounded but managed to ride about a mile back up the road to Beaver Creek with Clark’s posse in hot pursuit. There Moses Baird died and Gladden was found too badly wounded to fight. Peter Bader was ready to finish Gladden off, but John Keller swore he’d kill anyone who attempted to shoot the wounded man. Keller was a supporter of Clark, but did not approve of the ambush. That act of mercy saved Keller and his family from any reprisals from the Cooley gang. Bader had to satisfy his vengeance by removing a gold ring from the finger of the dead Moses Baird, along with the finger itself.
The shoot-out at Keller’s Store was the final straw for the citizens of Mason, who had attempted to remain neutral during the feud. The townspeople’s desperation was evident in a letter published in the San Antonio Herald which read “All Hell has broken out up here … We fear this is but the beginning of a bloody solution to the stock problems which have become so serious as of late.” Petitions began circulating requesting that Governor Richard Coke send state troops to put a stop the killing and restore law and order. In another newspaper, a reporter sarcastically wrote “Law and order once more prevail in Mason County, almost as completely as it does down in DeWitt County – that is to say, that the people are shooting each other with renewed energy.” De Witt County was the location of the infamous Sutton-Taylor Feud, the bloodiest feud in the history of Texas.
In September of 1875, help was finally sent to the beleaguered citizens of Mason. A company of Major John B. Jones’ Frontier Ranger Battalion was dispatched from their Ranger Camp to Mason County. But upon their arrival, the Rangers were met with the next wave of violence.
By September 24, Gladden had recovered from his wounds and was able to ride again. Cooley’s band quietly slipped into the town of Mason as Johnny Ringo and a man named Williams rode north to Comanche Creek and the home of Jim Cheney. Cheney nervously greeted the men, uncertain of what they knew of his involvement in the Keller Store ambush. He invited the two to join him for breakfast and began to wash his face. When his face was covered with a towel, Ringo silently pulled his gun and shot Cheney off the porch. Meanwhile, Cooley and the others appeared that same morning at a store owned by David Doole. Doole was an Irish merchant friendly with most of the Germans in the area. When Doole saw the men, he greeted them at the door with a rifle and refused to come out. The band then rode to the west side of town and settled in at Tom Gamel’s saloon. They had nothing to fear from the law – there was none.
Four days later, Scott Cooley and John Baird killed German cowboy Daniel Hoerster, and wounded Peter Jordan and Henry Plueneke. The German cattlemen then retaliated, hanging two men they suspected had assisted Cooley with the shootings. The next day the Texas Rangers finally arrived, finding the town in chaos. But Cooley and his band were nowhere to be found.
Major Jones set about working to restore the faith of the citizens while trying to determine who he could trust. He quickly sent out three parties of Rangers to pursue Cooley’s band. Each party returned empty handed. Meanwhile, Sheriff Clark and his posse were up to their old tricks. The next day they captured Bill Coke, an alleged associate of Cooley, on Mill Creek. He was sent back to Mason accompanied by six deputies. Coke was never heard from again. The deputies said he had escaped, but it was suspected that he had suffered the mob justice that still had a stranglehold on Mason County.
Charley Johnson, a friend of Bill Coke’s, rode into town looking for blacksmith William Miller, who had been a member of the posse that arrested Coke. Finding Miller at his workplace, he repeatedly shot him. A seriously wounded Miller was saved from a coup de grace from Johnson by his wife, who threw herself between Coke’s vengeful friend and her wounded husband. At this point, Johnson just turned and walked away.
Sheriff John Clark, who had been in hiding from Cooley, resigned his position on October 5, 1875, fled Mason and disappeared from the state. He later turned up in his home state of Missouri where he kept a low profile and lived out his days farming. By this time, the killings were almost random. There was no local law enforcement to speak of and the Texas Rangers were also doing little to remedy the situation, since many were friends of Cooley. Finally, a frustrated, Major Jones asked his men if they could not perform their duty by pursuing Cooley, they should step forward. Seven Rangers did so, willing to accept discharges rather than to pursue a former Ranger and friend. Only three of them were actually discharged, but there is little doubt that those who remained were loyal to Cooley. By this time, the Texas Governor’s office was receiving letters in support of Cooley, stating the local sheriff was siding with the German cattlemen to the detriment of the Anglo stockmen. Once this information found its way back to Major Jones, he acted swiftly.
The New Year of 1876 rang in with Cooley and Ringo locked up in the Travis County jail. They had been arrested by Sheriff A. J. Strickland for threatening the life of a Burnet County, Deputy Sheriff. With the Rangers on the hunt for the others, it appeared as if the violence was at an end, but one more killing was coming. Peter Bader had been hiding out on San Fernando Creek in Llano County. When Gladden and John Baird found out where he was, they prepared an ambush on the road between the town of Llano and Castell. On January 13, 1876, as Bader traveled up the road, the two waited behind a granite outcrop and Baird got his revenge for his brother’s death. He later proudly displayed the gold ring Bader had taken from his dead brother saying “Bader cut my brother’s finger off to get it, and I cut Pete’s finger off to get it back.”
In early February, Cooley and Ringo’s incarceration was cut short. They had been transferred to the Lampasas County jail prior to the start of their trial, the result of a venue change – clearly the pair could not get a fair trial in Mason County with its large German population. The pair were freed by a group of fifteen men led by John Baird, who met little resistance when they showed up at the jail to spring the pair. Ringo and Cooley were once again at large with the law in hot pursuit.
But Cooley’s life of freedom after the Hoodoo War proved to be extremely short. He took sick while staying at the Nimitz Hotel in Fredericksburg and died on June 10, 1876 at the young age of 24, with Wohrle’s scalp still in his pocket. The cause of death was reportedly “brain fever,” perhaps explaining the bizarre behavior he exhibited during the later days of his short life. Rumors persisted that he was poisoned by vengeful Germans, but this was never proven. Cooley is buried in Miller Creek Cemetery in Blanco County. A plain granite tombstone adorns his grave, the epitaph recognizing his better deeds. It reads simply “Scott Cooley – Texas Ranger.”
In November, 1876, Johnny Ringo was recaptured, along with George Gladden. Ringo was held for the murder of Jim Cheney until late in 1878, but was eventually acquitted. He quickly left Texas and drifted to Cochise County, Arizona, where he found himself involved in another famous feud with the Earp Brothers and Doc Holliday in Tombstone. However, Gladden was brought to trial for his crimes. He was found guilty of the murder of Peter Bader and sentenced to ninety-nine years in prison. Gladden was pardoned in 1884 and moved out of state. Another member of Cooleys’ band, John Baird fled from Texas to Lincoln County, New Mexico, where he met with a violent end. Another casualty of the war was The Mason County Courthouse, which burned to the ground on January 21, 1877 – an obvious case of arson. The fire took all the official records of the Hoodoo War. No one was ever apprehended for the arson.
When Ringo, Cooley, Gladden and John Baird were out of the picture, the feuding in Mason County area ceased. The terror in the Hill Country had ended. The hatred between the Anglos and the Germans, lingered for another twenty years. During that time, several more men lost their lives in killings that some say were linked to the Hoodoo War. Indeed, the war left a bloody legacy that still stirs the blood of the descendants of those who fought and died in that deadly feud that ended only after 14 men had lost their lives.
Read Part I